Support for Labour up and Conservatives down - poll
LONDON (Reuters) - Support for Labour has surged to a three-year high, a Reuters/Ipsos MORI poll showed on Thursday, with the Conservatives suffering as gloom about the economy deepens.
The January Reuters/Ipsos MORI political monitor showed support for Labour up four percentage points to 43 percent, while Conservative support dropped five points to 33 percent, the lowest level since the party took power last May. The Liberal Democrats rose two points from last month's two-year low to 13 percent.
"Satisfaction with the government and its leaders has declined significantly since December," said Ipsos MORI's Helen Cleary, adding that the approval rating of Prime Minister David Cameron was at its lowest since he took office in May.
Figures issued two days earlier showed a 0.5 percent contraction in the economy in the last three months of 2010, shaking faith in the government's economic plans.
The poll showed 53 percent of the public believed the economy would get worse in the next 12 months, compared with 24 percent who believed it would get better, the most pessimistic outlook since March 2009.
The fall in support for the Conservatives may prove ominous for the party in local elections in May, which will be an important gauge of public support for the government since it took office.
Its flagship policy has been a series of austerity cuts aimed at tackling a record peacetime budget deficit of about 10 percent of national output, a move welcomed by financial markets eager to see Britain as a good debtor and able to borrow cheaply.
However, public pain over cuts in jobs and services could strain the coalition and put the austerity plan at risk.
The Reuters/Ipsos MORI poll was conducted before gross domestic product (GDP) data showing a shrinking economy were published on Tuesday, meaning economic pessimism could be worse than shown in the survey's findings.
"The gloomy economic situation is clearly reflected in the poll findings, with economic optimism the lowest we've recorded in almost two years. Interviewing took place after a series of bad economic news but before the latest GDP figures, which may have had an even bigger impact," said Cleary.
It has been a tough start to the year for the coalition.
Besides the unexpected fall in economic output at the end of last year, the inflation rate is running at almost double the Bank of England's 2 percent target.
The Conservatives were hit last week by the resignation of communications chief Andy Coulson, a member of Cameron's inner circle and a former editor of the News of the World, which is being investigated over phone hacking.
Coulson was seen as having the common touch needed to sell to a sceptical public an austerity plan implemented by a government headed mostly by people from privileged backgrounds.
Labour's authority on economic issues may have been boosted by the appointment of Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor last week after the resignation of Alan Johnson, a self-confessed novice on economic policy.
Balls has had years of economic experience from working at the Treasury under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The freefall in support for the Liberal Democrats appears to have levelled off.
Voters had been angry at the party's decision to go back on an earlier election pledge to oppose higher university tuition fees.
- Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,162 adults throughout Britain by telephone.
- Interviews were conducted between January 21 and January 24
- Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
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